in the U.S.A.
August 1, 2002
By Franklin Harris
In the history of horror, there are certain individuals who distinguish themselves, often in the most unlikely of ways. One of them is William Lustig, who has become a hero of sorts to those of us who remember what it was like to scavenge flea markets for discarded rental tapes and fifth-generation bootlegs of obscure, Spanish zombie films.
Look up Lustig in any movie reference, and you'll see him listed as the director of "Maniac," one of the most brutal of '80s horror films. Or maybe you know Lustig as the director of the rather less impressive "Maniac Cop" trilogy.
Whatever the case, Lustig's greatest contribution to cinematic horror hasn't been behind the camera, but in the editing room.
Lustig spent most of the past decade as a producer for Anchor Bay Entertainment, working to restore classic and forgotten horror films to pristine condition and releasing them on video and DVD.
He was the first to give the movies of Italian director Dario Argento and other European horror filmmakers the attention they deserve. Anchor Bay's editions of "Suspiria," "Opera" and "Deep Red" belong in every horror fan's collection.
And while other distributors let the classic horror movies produced by Britain's Hammer Films languish in their vaults, Lustig and Anchor Bay rolled out every Hammer title they could find.
The success of Anchor Bay's Hammer Collection, including "Dracula: Prince of Darkness," "Quatermass and the Pit" and "The Satanic Rites of Dracula," finally prompted other companies to release high-quality editions of the Hammer titles they own.
Warner Home Video is releasing two eagerly awaited Hammer movies, "Horror of Dracula" and "Curse of Frankenstein," on Oct. 1. And Columbia TriStar is releasing "Revenge of Frankenstein" on Aug. 13. This is good news for fans of legendary horror performers Peter Cushing (who stars in all three films) and Christopher Lee (the title character in most of Hammer's Dracula films).
It is hard to image the Hammer and Eurohorror revivals being nearly as strong as they are without Lustig's efforts. He proved there was an unmet demand for cult horror movies of the '70s and '80s.
That's why horror fans were excited to learn that Lustig is striking out on his own.
He has left Anchor Bay to found Blue Underground, which promises to provide "guilty pleasures for adventurous movie fans," releasing films that are too extreme or too obscure for even Anchor Bay to touch.
Blue Underground's first batch of releases, due Sept. 3, includes two '80s slasher films, "The Toolbox Murders," starring late character actor Cameron Mitchell, and "The Prowler," with makeup effects by Tom Savini ("Friday the 13th"). A third release, "Shock Waves," stars Cushing, fellow horror legend John Carradine, and a platoon of Nazi zombies.
Future Blue Underground releases include two Italian crime thrillers, "Revolver" starring Oliver Reed and "Grand Slam" starring Klaus Kinski, Janet Leigh and Edward G. Robinson, and two of Spanish director Jess Franco's sleaze epics based on the works of the Marquis de Sade, "Justine" and "Eugenie."
With an ambitious release schedule of two or three DVDs per month, Blue Underground will be making a lot of horror and cult-movie fans part with their money.
If Lustig gets rich, horror fans will have just begun to pay their debt to the man who revived vintage horror in America.